By CHRIS BLANK
(JEFFERSON CITY, Mo., AP) — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had to do some compromising with the state’s GOP-led Legislature during his first term, but now the Democratic chief executive faces a new challenge: Republican supermajorities in both the House and Senate.
Republicans’ ability to override the governor’s vetoes has given them some new power in policy debates and could affect the way Nixon and legislative leaders work. It’s less clear whether it will affect what gets accomplished in Jefferson City.
Senate Republicans during this past week’s election maintained their existing two-thirds majority, controlling 24 of the 34 Senate seats for the 2013 legislative session. House Republicans seized 110 of 163 districts, giving their party a veto-proof majority in that legislative branch too.
House Speaker Tim Jones said Missouri Republicans have taken away Nixon’s “checkmate” and he hopes it prompts earlier discussion and negotiation between legislative leaders and the governor’s administration.
“A more efficient use of the taxpayers’ time and money would be to have a governor who does not hold his cards so close to his chest and is willing to come down and make his agenda known and his opinions known on specific legislation if he has them, at the time he has them,” said Jones, R-Eureka.
The suggestion stems from complaints by several GOP lawmakers that Nixon sometimes has appeared to hang back during debates about particularly contentious issues while emerging later and seeking to bridge diverse interests. In recent years, Nixon waited until after bills passed before publicly entering the fray on regulations for dog breeders and restricting nuisance lawsuits filed by neighbors over odor from large farming operations. Last year, Nixon blasted a bill dealing with vehicle sales taxes shortly after it won final approval in the Legislature.
Senate Republican leader Tom Dempsey, of St. Charles, said his focus is on managing the Senate and showing it can address meaningful issues while also developing a strong working relationship with House leaders.
Nixon, who previously served in the state Senate, said the Legislature’s partisan makeup does not really affect his approach. He said his focus is on what is important for moving the state forward and Republicans’ gains do not change how he plans to govern during this second term. Nixon said he looks forward to working with legislators and the new Republican leaders.
“We’ll get back to work here putting together the budget, putting together were we want to go over the next four years. I’ll lay that out, and I’ll work like heck to get there,” Nixon said. “I don’t come at this thinking that just because somebody got elected as one party they’ll be for me and just because somebody got elected as another party they’ll be not for me.”
The Legislature has been controlled by Republicans for Nixon’s entire tenure. Since taking office in 2009, Nixon has vetoed more than 50 non-budget bills, and lawmakers have overridden two of those vetoes. One override was of a bill that expanded religious and moral exemptions from health insurance coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortion and the other was to establish new congressional districts after the 2010 census. In both instances, several Democrats joined in supporting the veto overrides and one Republican senator opposed it.
University of Missouri-Columbia political science professor Marvin Overby said Nixon has experience working with the Legislature and the new veto-proof majority only matters if Republican leaders can maintain it for a given issue.
“He’s dealing with a few more Republicans than he had to deal with in the recent past. I don’t think it fundamentally shifts the dynamics,” Overby said.